LaDonna McFall

Citing the Coffee County Board of Education’s reluctance to discuss extending her contract and what she feels is a lack of support from board members, Coffee County Director of Schools LaDonna McFall announced last week that she is actively exploring other job opportunities.

McFall read a pre-written statement during the board’s work session on Monday, Feb. 4.

“Every metric by which a school system can be measured has vastly improved during my tenure, however, while we have been welcomed, accepted and valued by most citizens and leaders in this county, I have not always been valued by my own school board,” McFall said. “I have been talked about endlessly in our community, lied about in public forums, attacked and bullied by inappropriate comments on social media. While I expect that from some disgruntled folks, I certainly don’t expect it from members of my own school board.

“While not all have participated, few have spoken out publicly in support of me and the silence is what I have heard loud and clear,” she continued. “I have made complaints that have gone unanswered and these actions have been allowed to continue. I have asked for a contract extension for several months now and it has been put off and never been discussed.

“Clearly this board feels it is time to go in a different direction and seek different leadership and I certainly do respect that. I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given in Coffee County and have been dedicated to our students, employees and this community, but clearly it is time we move on. Non-action on the part of this board has shown me that I have to take action for myself and pursue other job opportunities that may present themselves to me,” McFall concluded.

Her words left the school board in shock.

Chairman Brett Henley apologized to McFall and said he appreciated her for the work she has done.

“That is going without saying, those points you had brought up are all valid. As any organization, leadership can take the criticism when it’s bad and the credit when it is back and there are some very good credit points there,” Henley said. “I’m just not sure what you’re saying except that you’re looking for other opportunities?”

McFall confirmed she was; however, she has not applied for a job. She is willing to discuss her contract with the board if things change. McFall said she wanted to bring this to the board on her own terms to avoid being misrepresented and having information jumbled.

“I applaud you for being forthcoming with us and, whatever happens, just know, that you do the best for you,” said board member Freda Jones.

School board member Gary Nester agreed with Jones and added that McFall is appreciated and he recognizes how difficult her position is as director.

Shannon Duncan expressed she did not want to remain silent, but was a loss for words immediately following McFall’s remarks.

Member Pat Barton pointed out the tenure of directors varies, but the average tenure is around 3.5 years in the county – a view that wasn’t agreed upon by Duncan and Henley.

The meeting adjourned quickly after.

McFall’s contract is up in June 2020. She was hired as director of schools in June 2012.

 

McFall’s statement

McFall read about a seven-minute long statement about what she has achieved in her tenure. She listed three focused areas she feels she improved during her tenure as director: academics, facilities and lack of resources.

“In terms of academics, we vastly improved the instruction and the academic rigor of our students. We have moved the needle and raised the expectation. We are no longer the lowest performer in the county nor in the region. We are among the top performers and I am very proud of that,” McFall said.

McFall added she’s worked hard to strengthen the faculty, invested in them to make them better and she would put Team Coffee against any teaching force in the state.

“To get that, I had to make some very hard decisions and do some very hard things. I’ve been willing to do the hard things because our children deserve that. I’ve hired the best people for the jobs instead of those I’ve been encouraged to hire, sometimes because of politics or local ties. While it would have been much easier for me to cave in and hire certain folks and make people like me. That’s just not who I am. I’m going to do what the right thing is and sometimes that is often, most often, the hard thing. That’s what strong leaders do,” McFall said.

Her work on facilities included opening the new middle school and the ninth-grade academy, upgrading HVAC units, implementing an energy savings program to the schools, replacing roofs and furniture and moving forward with renovations plans to get rid of all of the county’s portable classrooms and plan for future growth.

“I’m very proud of what our team has accomplished,” McFall said.

“To address the lack of resources and support for our students and families, I made it my goal that we would improve the social emotional support systems available for our students. We implemented the OVAIS anti-bullying program districtwide. In the coming months, with a grant we just received, all of our schools will be trained and designed as Trauma Informed Schools. We will be one of the few, if not the only, in the state, to obtain this designation,” McFall added.

Manchester City’s College Street Elementary is also a Trauma Informed School.

McFall pointed out that under her leadership, the school board has consistently come in under budget, doubled the fund balance and raised employee salaries.

McFall’s statement came two weeks after former Deputy Director of Schools Joey Vaughn took the director’s position for Manchester City Schools.

Casey Watts can be reached by email at cwatts@manchestertimes.com.